Italy and her food is in my blood. It’s my heritage, my grandmother taught me to cook without recipes and using measurements that only make sense to her. It’s a fine art of balancing those old traditions with finding new ways of over hauling a food culture that has been passed down through generations of women who understand what “a glug” of oil is.
You’ve probably heard over and over that Italy is a country of regions, and that no two regions are the same in food, language or culture. And it’s true. What I know to be a certain way with my northern heritage completely contradicts what my Sicilian and southern friends know. And this could not be more true about the food. Each region of Italy has a handful of signature dishes that these days you will find across the country, but are done really well in their home towns.
This is the first in a short series of posts that will eventually cover the entire country. Come eat your way through Italy with me…
I’m going to start in Lazio, because being home to Italy’s largest city it’s the region most tourists will be familiar with. That’s right, Lazio is home to Roma.
Lazio: Fast Facts
- The Latin word for Lazio is Latium, and you’ll sometimes see that used as the English word for the region, too – but English sources often just use the Italian, Lazio (pronounced LAHT|zee|oh).
- The capital of Lazio is also the capital of the country – Rome.
- The smallest city-state in the world, the Vatican, is entirely within the borders of Lazio (because it’s entirely within the borders of Rome).
- There are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Lazio, one of them being the entire historic center of Rome (including the Vatican). The other three are the Etruscan necropolises of Tarquinia and Cerveteri, the Villa Adriana at Tivoli, and the Villa d’Este at Tivoli.
- Not all roads lead to Rome anymore, but the Appian Way – still in existence and quite usable in many places – once did. It remains a prominent and popular attraction in Lazio.
- People from Lazio are called laziali (plural). The singular version is laziale.
Now, about the food. The hills in Lazio are rich and fertile making it easy to grow vegetables of all types which in turn makes them an important part of the cuisine in this area. They are cooked with liberal amounts of oil, herbs and garlic and more often than not a good portion of anchovies. The meat dishes in this area tend to be heavy and over flavoured, a throw back to the days of poverty when outside the cities the peasants had to eat what was left over when the rich had finished. Unspeakable cuts of meat were eaten then and still are in some more remote places and offal is big business at the butchers. All over this region they still have a tendency to use lesser cuts of beef and pork. Traditionally, the entire animal was butchered, with the offal and cheap cuts being known as the fifth quarter. Chicken is used more here than in other regions and still today they eat a fair amount of rabbit. Wild vegetables and herbs are gathered eagerly in the countryside along with snails which are a popular dish.
Pasta features strongly but the bigger, chunkier types such as bucatini and conchiglie are favoured. One of our best loved pasta dishes, spaghetti carbonara, comes from this region. But traditionally done, with egg, parmesan and pancetta – none of this cream business.
The popular pasta sauce arrabbiata, which means ‘angry’, comes from this region. It is so named because of the flakes of hot peperoncino that are added to it.